Thursday, July 16, 2015


Up until now, I don't know that I've ever felt helpless. I really can't recall a moment when something was happening and I couldn't do something about it-change it, fight it, impact it.

Helplessness is not something that we Americans do well with. It is not something I do well with.

What do I do when I can't do anything?
Scream? Cry? Curse? Light buildings on fire?

Sometimes my work (hey, surprise, I'm talking about my job again... deal with it!) feels like a bunch of broken promises.

Like I can do this, this or this but if this, this , or this happens-you're out of luck. It's the worst when they do realize that and the worst when they don't realize that.

So often there's this attitude of, "it will be what it will be". Just a ...resignation.

Resignation...that doesn't sit well with me either.

But when all the odds are stacked against you, and all the worst is out there waiting for you... perhaps it's better to accept the fact that you're probably not going to make it out of this unscathed.

And I have a front row seat. I sip my bubble tea and watch. And I can't DO anything. Just listen and see and mourn when they mourn.

Tonight is a mourning kind of night.

And tomorrow...well, tomorrow I'm raising hell-helpful or not.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I was hiding in my office, behind a very small room divider- the whole day was crazy and chaotic and nothing was going as planned. I wasn't even supposed to be in the office (hence the hiding).

The office was being used for a workshop activity and thus closed to walk ins (funny how that's never stopped anyone).

In came this kid. He was tall and skinny, but he looked young. I knew at once he was a new arrival- he had that frightened/overwhelmed/you've gotta be kidding me this is what I RAN TO face on him that they all have when they are new.

I was in no mood to be bothered. New arrivals I see on Friday. It was Wednesday.

He spoke not a word of English, but this is not my first rodeo folks, I most certainly know the word "no" in Somali.  I waved him away, busy at my computer, didn't really bother to actually see him.

But then I glanced up, just as he turned to leave. And I saw that he would cry.

So I brought him into my small cubby and found an interpreter. I asked what his problem was and he poured it all out-how he had no money and no where to go, just a fifteen year old boy who needed a place to sleep that night.

I said what it is I always say, "I've been doing this job for one year and I've NEVER seen a Somali client sleeping on the street". Basically- you're going to have to toughen up, my young friend. You are going to have to pave a way for yourself. But again I saw in his face that he was just so young. He was someone that couldn't just walk out and fend for himself- ask a dozen strangers if he could spend the night until someone said yes. So I said, "well, I know some Somali boys. Would you like me to make some calls for you?". Of course the answer was yes. (The answer is always yes).

So I started calling. "Okay...this kid has no money," I thought, "so I need someone kind of settled in, a bit established-looks like someone older might be beneficial for this kid". I placed a handful of calls and was met with many kind, but firm "no's".

Then I remembered a few months earlier, when another very frightened and very young boy was in a similar predicament, and thought, well...maybe he would be understanding and let this kid crash a night or two...

And no sooner had I called and explained the situation than this 15 year old boy arrives to the office. He comes straight for this new arrival, puts an arm around his neck and introduces himself. He invites him to come stay with him for the next two weeks. He speaks softly, kindly, and earnestly to this scared kid. And then they are off- my little hero picking up his new friends bag and out they go.

And I was just so proud of who he is.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mt. Kinabalu and my current peak

Last October Mark and I went to Borneo. It was our first long weekend vacation in SE Asia and we were very excited. We travelled with two friends and one of them, an avid climber, convinced us that hiking Mt. Kinabalu (one of the highest peaks in the region) would be a great (and doable) plan.

We travelled from Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu and spent one night at “Jungle Jack’s” (a quick facebook search is how we stumbled upon this gem…but when he picked us up on the side of the mountain in the middle of the night blaring country music…we knew we’d picked a winner). We got in late, spent the night, and started on the trek early the next morning.

To say that we were a bit underprepared is putting it lightly. I started our vacation a bit sick with… stomach problems. When we surveyed our trekking group Mark and I noticed that most people wore high end gear and threw around phrases like, “when I hiked to Base Camp last year”. As we set off on our hike I had a moment of trepidation, but brushed it away. Maybe I was a bit underprepared, perhaps others had better training and experience, but I had the WILL to make it to the top. I’m a girl that’s used to completing what it is I set out to do, so I plunged in, full speed ahead.

About 15 minutes in and I knew it was going to be much harder than I had anticipated. It was just so… steep. I was unaccustomed to this type of “hiking” (CLIMBING!) and my legs were shaky after about one hour. And I couldn’t breathe, not at all. I have practically lived in the ocean the last few years, so starting a hike at 6,000 ft with a 4,000 ft elevation gain in four hours… Oh boy.

After the first half meter or so I got into a rhythm. “This is hard”, I thought, “but I love challenges”. I’m not very athletic and I felt proud to be doing this thing that was difficult for me. If I learned anything on my little island at the edge of the world, I learned that great things require great sacrifice. Mark and our friend were quickly leading the pack, but us girls hung back, slow and steady. When I could breathe, we chatted. Mostly I enjoyed the scenery and marveled at the human body- so amazing how it works together, how I can neglect it in some ways, and then demand it to perform and it will.

The hike is usually accomplished in two days. The first day you stop at the Laban Rata Resthouse for dinner and sleep. The hike commences the next day at 2 or 3 in the morning, so that you can make it to the summit for sunrise.


About halfway to the resthouse things took a turn for the worse. I quietly plodded on, one foot in front of the other, but I was dizzy and nauseous, the whole world was spinning. What I knew was that I needed to stop, but I convinced myself that rest would come once I made it to the Resthouse. I continued on. Once I reached the Resthouse I knew I was in trouble. I hate being the weak one, the party pooper-so I tried to sip tea and pretend all was well, but I had to get up every 5 minutes to run to the restroom. I could barely walk the room was spinning so much. I waited for an hour. I felt certain that I was just tired and needed a break, and once I was rested all would be well. Eventually Mark decided to tell our guide, a lovely Malaysian man, about my ailments. He took one look at me and declared I must get off the mountain.

At that point it was about 6:30 in the evening. Night was falling, fast. (Oh, and it was FREEZING, and I mean FREEZING). I cried when they told me I would go back down that night. And of course, the only way down was the same way we had come up… You guys, I pretty much had to be carried off that mountain. Suffice it to say… it was a very long night, my poor husband did not get to summit Mt. Kinabalu, I couldn’t move my legs properly for two weeks, and altitude sickness is a B.


Now, why am I regaling you all with this story from almost a year ago?

 Glad you asked….

A year and a week ago from today, I shuddered and cried and bemoaned the fact that I was moving to Thailand without a job. I sulked that I was following my husband (whom I adore and would follow anywhere) and felt certain I would literally go insane sitting alone in BKK day after day. I cried and yelled and threw things (well not really, but in my mind I had these tantrums), because I just have SO MUCH passion and I needed to direct it. I had so much desire but no opportunities.


And then, miraculously, I got offered this job.  


To say that I was a bit underprepared is putting it lightly. I started this job with the kind of naivety you read about, the kind of naivety you love to scoff at. (and don’t even get me started on all the other “sicknesses” I carried into this job with me- bias, savior complex, etc, etc). When I surveyed my co-workers I noticed that most were far more educated and experienced than I was. They threw around phrases like, “According to the CRC, all SC and UAM’s need BIAs”. (okay not really, but holy acronyms people- the first 10 pages of my orientation notebook were just acronyms defined. Does anything make you feel more idiotic than frantically googling acronyms whilst sitting in a meeting?!). My first week at my new job I had a moment of trepidation, but I brushed it away. Maybe I was a bit underprepared, perhaps others had better training and experience, but I had the WILL, had the passion, to accomplish this work, to make a difference, to change the world!  I’m a girl that’s used to completing what it is I set out to do, so I plunged in, full speed ahead.

And JUST like that mountain hike, I knew from the get go it was going to be much harder than I had anticipated. The need is so great and the supporters so small. I was unaccustomed to these types of stories- stories of anger, envy, deceit- but with accompanying actions of murder, rape, torture, freaking organ harvesting. This girl who used to cry at the mere sight of a tear welling in another’s eye had to toughen up quick. And I did.

After the first few months or so I got into a rhythm. “This is hard”, I thought, “but I love challenges”. I had so much to learn and I was proud of myself for digging in, despite all the difficulties. If I learned anything on my little island at the edge of the world, I learned that great things require great sacrifice. I created good boundaries and slowly and steadily built relationships with my clients, learned the ways of urban refugees in Bangkok, and tried my hardest to love and dignify the wonderful people I have the honor to serve.  I enjoyed the many discoveries I made while learning more about new people and places. I marveled at the human spirit- so amazed at other’s strength, beauty, and goodness.


About eight months into my job things took a turn for the worse. Just one week of a string of bad events and I was (literally) dizzy and nauseous, my whole world was spinning. And then the next week there was more bad news. And the week after that there was more. And for a short time I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t even breathe when my phone rang, so certain it would be another tragedy. All my well laid boundaries got wrecked to shit. I took calls at 11 pm, worked weekends, I did what I felt I needed to do so I could look in the mirror the next morning and know I had done what I could.

What I knew was that I needed to stop, to take a step back, but I convinced myself that rest would come once “such and such” problem was solved, or once insert random crazy thing here was taken care of. And I guess the whole point of this whole thing is, I don’t want to have to get carried down this mountain.

I just got back from a one month holiday home. I tried to stay away from work-including emails and other contact with clients/coworkers, but our team had recently made a chat group and I was notified every time someone wrote in it (1000 times a day-give or take). You guys, the crazy stuff just keeps on coming. First it was responding to a suicide attempt, then it was a serious medical issue, then it was a trafficker found one of our clients and tried to abduct them, then it was the arrest of our girls with young babies, and then the next day of our handicapped client.  And I guess, from my cozy bed, in the room I grew up in, I (finally) realized that if I wait until all is fixed to re-establish good boundaries and leave my work at work, this job is going to kill me.

One of the things I have voiced often to Mark in the last year is, “I can’t unknow what I know now”. Usually this sentiment is accompanied by some amount of tears. I had known the world was a broken place, and I had sat in my cozy bed at home and tried to understand conflicts in places far away from California, USA, but I had never had to look into someone’s eyes as they recount the horrific things done to them. I had never had to answer the question of “Why?”.

This year has been a paradigm shifting year for me. Why does God allow Suffering? How do I bear the enormity of my privilege as a white American? Why do I do this work- Guilt? Love? How can it be that I see Jesus more in my Muslim friends day by day than so many who say they are Christians? How much should we (mark and I) sacrifice for these- and when? How?

The days leading up to my return to the big city I could feel my anxiety mounting- I knew what would be waiting for me. Don’t get me wrong-I love these kids, I love this job ( I would hand pick this job of all the jobs in the world, even now-especially now). But I knew what awaited me.

I landed very early morning earlier this week. And I was instantaneously filled with joy. I exited the plane with the biggest smile on my face- I couldn’t wipe my silly grin off my face as I went through customs and got into a taxi. I got home and unpacked my bag and it was time for work. I (honestly, this really happened) laughed for the pure joy of my life right now as I walked down my neighborhood street to catch a motorsai. As we drove down the busy Market street and passed the vendors, monks, etc, I marveled at how incredibly clear it is that this is meant to be my home for this time. I was all chatty in the bus-pretty sure I was the only eager and excited person at 6:30 on Wednesday morning-but my bus! I’m back! How exciting! I put on Taylor Swift’s 1984 (for old times sake).

Some people say, “your job sounds so hard- don’t you think you will quit?”. Or, “your facebook statuses are sad- this doesn’t seem like you”. Yes, my job is hard. And yes, I have had so much to learn and still have so much to learn about how to manage it and still be a normal, functioning person outside the craziness of this job. But- do you know me? If you know me you know that I would rather this, I was meant for this. And for all those who met me this year- I’m sorry you’ve had to watch me walk through this crazy year as a crazy person. No promises for this coming year, but know that I am learning, I am growing, and I am right where I’m supposed to be.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Patriotism: Some Contradictory Thoughts

This year, I’ve surprisingly become more patriotic.  This may come as a surprise to those who know me and my tendency to criticize my country’s priorities and values.  But, it’s true!

This change of heart is primarily due to the relationships we’ve built with young asylum seekers.  To them, America truly represents hope.  They have fled their countries because they are in real danger of being killed, usually merely due to their family’s clan or ethnicity.  And they now live in a country where they are in constant fear of arrest.  They long for freedom—not just freedom in the abstract sense of the word, but the real, genuine freedom to simply live in peace. 

When I talk to these young people about their desire to be resettled in the U.S., I can’t help but encourage their hope!  Even though America is certainly still dealing with our own demons of prejudice and inequality, I can genuinely say to them:  Yes, if you are resettled to America, you will not have to be perpetually afraid of being murdered because of your clan!  You will not have to live in constant fear of the police!  If you’re willing to work for it, there are opportunities for education and employment!  It’s been so funny to notice my own pride in the good ole American Dream. 

However, on the complete other hand, it’s been funny to reflect on something else I’ve realized this year.  Never before have I come to a greater understanding of the dangers of patriotism. Never before have I realized how poisonous a seemingly innocent “love for one’s country” can be. 

Take, for example, the Rohingya refugee crisis.   I would argue that they have been systemically mistreated by the Myanmar government not because all the government officials are evil, but because the Myanmar government takes pride in their nation, and wants to remain strong, to remain “pure,” and to remain free from those deemed threatening or different.  And this year, when thousands of Rohingya took to the sea in dangerous, overcrowded boatsthey were turned away from multiple countries—again, not because of evil governments, but because of their insistence on protecting their supposed economic well-being and their unwillingness to welcome the outsider.

Just name your 20th Century tyrannical dictator—Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Mao—all ruled their countries and committed great atrocities in the name of patriotic pride and the nationalistic desire to make their countries great and powerful.    

And lest we judge these “evil men” too harshly, the U.S. and other developed Western countries have planks in our own eyes that are far too difficult to ignore.  I would argue that it is this same brand of patriotic pride that lies at the root of Europe and Australia's continued decisions to turn away thousands of dying and desperate refugees in recent years.  And I would argue that it is deep-seeded patriotism, a desire for nationalistic greatness and economic strength, that often motivates Americans when we make decisions like turning away child refugees and and separating immigrant children from their families.   

So, where does that leave me?  Of course, patriotism is not all bad.  As that cheesy anthem says, I am proud to be an American.  But I am continually weary of the dangers of that patriotism. 

Ultimately, I rest in knowing that my citizenship in a Kingdom that is not of this world, one that transcends all divisions of nation and ethnicity, is infinitely more important than my American citizenship.  I rest in knowing that my first allegiance is not to a president or a constitution, but to a King that calls me to seek reconciliation, struggle against injustice, and welcome all who are in need.